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Straw Dogs (1971)

Sam Peckinpah’s controversial film about David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), an American mathematician, and Amy (Susan George), his young beautiful wife, moving to a secluded village in her native Cornwall was banned in the UK for nearly 30 years after it’s production.

Almost immediately after arriving in Cornwall, there is tension between the couple as David becomes immersed in his academic work while ignoring Amy.

Craving attention, Amy begins to flirt with several of the burly town locals (Jim Norton, Peter Vaughan, Ken Hutchison, Donald Webster) doing repair work on the couple’s isolated farmhouse.

One of these locals is Amy’s former lover Charlie Venner (Del Henney). Amy’s flirtations and David’s intellectual reserve create resentment, and the workmen begin to subtly taunt and harass them.

David discovers their pet cat strangled and hanging by a light chain in their bedroom closet. Amy claims the workmen did it to prove they could get into their bedroom and to intimidate David.

She presses him to confront the villagers, but he refuses. Instead, David tries to win their friendship, and they invite him to go hunting in the woods the next day.

During the hunting trip, the workmen take him to a remote forest meadow and leave him there with the promise they will drive the birds towards him.

Having ditched David, Charlie Venner returns to the couple’s farmhouse where he confronts Amy. He beats her and rapes her. A second villager arrives and forces Venner by shotgun to hold Amy down while he also rapes her.

After several hours, David realises he’s been tricked and returns home to find a dishevelled and withdrawn Amy. She does not tell him about the gang rape.

Later that week, they attend a church social where Amy becomes distraught after seeing the men who raped her. David and Amy leave the social early and while driving home accidentally hit the village idiot Henry Niles (David Warner). They take the injured Niles to their home and David calls the town pub about the accident.

Unbeknownst to him, earlier that evening Niles strangled a young girl from the village, and now the workmen are looking for Niles. The phone call alerts them to Niles’ whereabouts.

Soon the drunken locals – including the men who raped Amy – are pounding on the door of the Sumner’s home. When David refuses to hand Niles over to the mob they attempt to break into the house.

Forced into action in defence of his home, David embarks on an uncharacteristic spree of violence, descending into a murderous rage, violently murdering all the attackers.

How a rational, reflective man discovers his own killer instincts – and acts upon them – is the core of the movie’s tale.

For a film that was banned for so long, it is not particularly violent and is now perhaps one of the more dated examples of early 70’s cinema. Sadly the movie is most remembered for the (at the time) controversial rape scene.

The rape scene is by far the most harrowing part of this film. It’s quite obvious that Amy also hates the fact that she is enjoying it, and hates herself for liking it. It is also quite obvious that Amy does not enjoy the sodomy by the second man (while her ex-boyfriend holds her down) which follows immediately after.

The movie is loosely based on the novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm by Gordon Williams.

David Sumner
Dustin Hoffman
Amy Sumner

Susan George
Tom Hedden

Peter Vaughan
Major John Scott

T.P. McKenna
Charlie Venner

Del Henney
Chris Cawsey

Jim Norton

Donald Webster
Norman Scutt

Ken Hutchison
Bobby Hedden

Len Jones
Janice Hedden

Sally Thomsett
Harry Ware

Robert Keegan
John Niles

Peter Arne
Louise Hood

Cherina Schaer
Reverend Barney Hood

Colin Welland

Sam Peckinpah